Guiding consumers since 2009

Beware of contract terms and conditions

By Jessica Anne Wood

Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you know what you are getting with any contract that you sign. This not only applies to employment contracts, but service contracts as well, such as insurance or mobile network contracts.

This is something that one consumer found out the hard way. In a recent news report, it was highlighted that a consumer had taken up a contract with MWEB which offered customers three months of ADSL and three months of ShowMax. This was advertised on the MWEB website, but the deal has since ended.

The consumer purports that he was not informed that the deal actually resulted in him taking out a yearlong ShowMax subscription for which he was paying an additional R99 per month. (For more, scroll down)

Things to do before agreeing to a contract

This case emphasises the need for consumers to scrutinise any contract before signing. Below are some tips to help you before signing a contract or taking out an agreement.

Neville Melville, Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO), highlighted the importance of reading the fine print. This is especially important when something is offered as ‘free’. He noted: “Last Friday I narrowly missed being caught out when I decided to click on “terms” of supposedly free scanning software instead of “accept” and discovered there were all sorts of other conditions and costs. So ask for/ read the terms is my first bit of advice.”

In addition, if agreeing to a contract or ordering something over the phone, find out if the call is recorded. Melville pointed out that these recordings have proved useful to the CGSO investigations.

Another suggestion that Melville made was to Google ‘scam’ together with the name of the product you are interested in. Not everything may be accurate or even relevant to the product, but it will give you an idea of the public perception of it.

“Another thing to watch out for is that the true payment sought by the supplier may be information on your buying habits via cookies,” added Melville.

“Under the Consumer Protection Act, suppliers may not use false, misleading or deceptive representations/ marketing tactics and are under an obligation to bring onerous terms to the attention of the consumer,” emphasised Melville.

In other words, when taking out a contract or signing an agreement, the supplier is required to inform the consumer about any relevant terms. This could include additional charges, or the sale of information to third parties.

MWEB and ShowMax

The consumer in the above instance noted that he was not informed that he would be charged an additional R99 per month for the ShowMax subscription prior to taking out the contract with MWEB. He was subsequently informed that the ShowMax contract could not be terminated after the three months.

The consumer complained to the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASASA) claiming misleading advertising on the part of MWEB. However, as the advertising campaign had already ended and been removed by MWEB from the website, the ASASA couldn’t do anything.

In a statement, MWEB told Justmoney: “MWEB has resolved a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regarding a recent ShowMax promotion.

“As per the ruling, the ASA considered all relevant documentation from all parties and the undertaking by MWEB made to the ASA addresses the complainants concerns. The promotion has since concluded and advertising relating to it has been removed.”

It is vital that you ensure you ask any relevant questions and understand all the terms and conditions before signing or agreeing to anything, to prevent yourself from falling into a similar situation.

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